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Image from The Official James Bond 007 Website
Image from The Official James Bond 007 Website

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The sound of cool — why the James Bond theme music is valuable IP

No Time To Die is the 25th entry in the James Bond movie franchise, and like every 007 flick made by Eon Productions since this debonair spy appeared on the silver screen in 1962, it features the iconic James Bond theme. You can probably hear it in your head right now — “the one with the dum-dee-dee-DUM-dum surf guitar line and the walloping orchestral charts dripping with danger”, as Chicago Tribune writer Michael Phillips vividly describes.

The theme was composed by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry. In the 1990s, a lawsuit contended that Barry’s contributions to this theme were so significant that he deserved co-authorship recognition and royalties. Norman won the case, but even he has acknowledged the distinctiveness of Barry’s arrangement.

The Bond theme is so distinct, in fact, that Danjaq (Eon’s holding company) applied to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to register 25 seconds of it as a sound mark in the European Union.

A sound mark is an aural trademark used to show that a product or service originates from a particular enterprise, and which consumers can easily perceive as a mark.

That may sound quite straightforward as a qualifying criteria for the Bond theme to be recognised as sound mark. But Danjaq’s application was initially refused. One of the stated reasons was that the application was seeking the registration of this sound mark for goods classes that included household utensils, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. Since these products were not eligible for commercialisation in association with James Bond movies, the Bond theme was deemed not able to directly create a trademark perception for some of the commodities covered by the application.

However, the EUIPO’s Board of Appeal later annulled this refusal, assessing the Bond theme to be distinctive enough for the goods classes requested.

The board also refuted another earlier reason for refusing the application, namely that the 25 seconds in question were not memorable enough for consumers to perceive it as an indicator of commercial origin. The board stated that “a stricter assessment cannot be done as to which features a sound mark should have in order to be catchy and distinctive in general, and also that a lot of sounds equal to or longer than 25 seconds in general are registered as trademarks in EUIPO”.

In plain English, that probably translates into something like “distinctiveness is subjective”. For 007 fans at least, the idea that the Bond theme is not catchy is perhaps even laughable. We’ll leave the last word to the theme’s officially acknowledged composer, Norman, who once summed up its magic this way: “Bond’s sexiness, his mystery, his ruthlessness — it’s all there, in a few notes.” It's yet another reminder that IP can be potent shapers of culture, and properly protected IP can yield many long-term rewards. 

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Mark Laudi

Mark Laudi

Press contact Managing Partner (+65) 6223 2249

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